Plants and Shrubs That Thrive Under Pine Trees

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Blog on 6th August 2022. Updated: 31st of January 2023.

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Very few shrubs and plants thrive under pine trees for various reasons, but if you’re determined to fill this space, consider one of these seven options.

Have you heard that pine needles are acidic, and this is the reason most plants under pine trees struggle?

This is a myth; while green pine needles are acidic and will affect the soil, the brown ones that fall off the trees are neutral and have no adverse effects on the soil.

The University of New Hampshire states that:

Pine needles themselves are acidic but do not have the capacity to appreciably lower the soil pH

University of New Hampshire

That said, pine trees thrive in acidic soil so you should consider plants that prefer acidic soil rather than fighting against nature by adjusting the soil with additives.

Beyond the soil pH, the three issues that affect plants grown under pines trees are:

  • Lack of water as pine tree roots are shallow and long and suck all the moisture from the soil.
  • Soil nutrient deficiencies as pine trees pull out the nutrients just as they do with moisture.
  • Sunlight issues.

But don’t give up, try one of these eight options:

1) Rhododendrons and Azaleas Under Pine Trees

Rhododendrons and their compact cousin, Azaleas, are well suited for growing under pine trees and this, in fact, is a natural habitat for them.

These shrubs thrive in slightly acidic soil, and the dappled sunlight and their below-average water requirements make them a perfect choice for under pine trees.

Consider: Azalea Japonica.

rhododendron and Azaleas under pine trees and fir trees

Rhododendrons and Azaleas under pine trees and fir trees

2) Weigela “Florida Variegata”

Weigelas with variegated leaves are often grown under tall trees, including pine trees.

From this deciduous shrub, expect oval-shaped green leaves with cream edges. From spring into early summer, this popular shrub will delight with small pinkish-white funnel-shaped blooms.

I’ve always found weigelas easy to grow, and they require little ongoing care once established, making them perfect for growing under tall pine trees.

Weigela "Florida Variegata"

Pink and white blooms on a Weigela

3) Ivy

Ivy is another option for growing under pine trees where it can climb up the tree trunks or cover the ground.

Ivy grows just about anywhere and ivy with variegated leaves add extra interest.

Ivy on pine trees

Ivy often grows naturally up pine trees

4) Camellia Water Lily

Camellias are winter and spring-flowering shrubs that thrive in acidic soil and will put on a colourful show from winter into spring.

Expect plenty of rosette-like blooms surrounded by thick leathery, green leaves.

They prefer shelter from the wind, so are perfect for locating under pine and fir trees. I’ve seen them mixed with azaleas and rhododendrons.

Here’s a photo I took on the 2nd March 2023:

Camellia flower

5) Holly Bush

Holly bushes often grow naturally under pine trees where they add glossy colour, interest and from late autumn, bright red berries that may persist well into the winter.

Once established, I’ve found that a holly bush doesn’t require any special care and they’re perfect space fillers for under trees.

Berries and leaves on a holly bush

Red berries and glossy green leaves on a holly bush

6) Ferns

Ferns thrive under pine trees and in a pine forest near me, I see acres of ferns happily growing under the tall trees and amongst holly bushes and rhododendrons.

The most common fern, bracken, is just one of thousands of species and some are delightfully unique.

Expect plenty of green foliage throughout the summer into autumn from this easy-to-grow plant.

Take a look at this list of ferns by Fern Gardening.

Green fern foliage

7) Bilberry

Bilberry, a close relative to blueberry, is a plant I’ve seen growing under pine trees on public land as it thrives in acidic, nutrient-poor soils.

Perfect for ground cover, this bush produces green foliage (often evergreen), and from August, they have dark blue-coloured berries that are edible and make excellent jams.

Bilberries are similar to blueberries, but they are softer and juicier, meaning they don’t transport well and are rarely found in supermarkets.

Bilberry bush

8) Consider a Container

Finally, don’t forget that if the soil is too dry and acidic, you can also place containers under the pine trees.

I have seen several examples of gardeners using pots to grow shrubs that would otherwise struggle to survive under pine trees.

I have also seen hostas grown around the pots to mask them, so that’s another option.

Photos of Plants, Shrubs and Bushes Under Pine Trees

If you need inspiration, go for a walk around a pine forest if there’s one near you, you’ll see plenty of plants, shrubs and bushes thriving:

Wild rhodi under pine trees

A wild rhodi growing under a pine tree

Holly bush and ferns under pine trees

Holly and ferns growing under pine trees

Bilberry bush under pine trees

A wild bilberry bush growing under pine trees

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a former NHS administrator, mother of two and keen gardener with a horticulture qualification who loves growing new plants and experimenting in the garden.

She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.

This year is all about pollinators, and Hannah has set herself the goal of only buying new plants that attract pollinators; she aims to make the garden as bee and butterfly friendly as possible.

More About Hannah Miller

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Hannah Miller

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This guide was written by Hannah Miller, who has pine trees in her garden.

To ensure accuracy, we asked horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to review and fact-check this guide before publication.

Explore: Elizabeth Smith’s profile and qualifications.

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